Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ad Hominem in Mormon Studies

I have come across many sites that irk me for one reason or another. I have recently put my finger on one of the more frequent problems I see. In order to illustrate this I will take everybody back to my last class on American Military history.

(Cue the wavy lines and flash back music)

One of our main texts books was by Kenneth Hagan. I don't know this guy from Adam but he did make some interesting arguments about America's naval theory and actions. He argued that America's dominant naval tradition was Guerre De Course and not a Mahanian desire for big ships and decisive battle. Now I won't get into the details and problems of his argument. Around the time we were studying the Spanish American War I made an argument about U.S. strategy that used the Hagan book. In response I was simply told by the individual in the class that I could not use him because he is biased. I asked for proof, or some analysis showing that he was biased. He did not give me any except to basically say "trust me: I know what I am talking about". I was not only less than impressed with his analytical skills, but I was extremely annoyed because he never pushed back against my analysis or argument, but simply repeated the fact that he "distrusted" Hagan for unnamed reasons.(Upon review that reflected his bias more than any supposed fault with Hagan) What it boiled down to was that he disqualified a person and not an argument. In fact, he would later go on to attack me, and not my argument as well. (This was not the most pleasant semester of school to say the least)

(Cue the wavy lines and back to the present music)

Now in studies of the Book of Mormon I often hear the question: What non Mormon scholar argue that it is true? This meets the criterion for ad hominem fallacy, which in simple terms means that you attack the person instead of his argument. Thus if Kenneth Hagan becomes "biased" than you can safely dismiss his argument without reviewing it. And if you can dismiss a scholar simply because of who he is (a Mormon) then you can also dismiss his argument without the effort of actually reading and contending with the persons logic or reasoning. If a person has been professional in building his case then it should not matter who that person is. What would matter is the argument that person made and if he adequately proves his thesis. Thus many people build a case in trying to prove the Book of Mormon; barring that they make a sufficient case for its plausibility. And so many times we are met with the response that we are Mormon scholars. The End.

In my personnel experience I rarely have anybody question my arguments, my cases, my evidence, or my research. I have simply been dismissed based on who I am. Thus many Book of Mormon scholars feel that others cannot contend with their arguments because they don't. (See the Mosser and Owens article here)This is shoddy scholarship in the realm of American history or Mormon Studies. With this in mind, I invite comments concerning my research into warfare in the Book of Mormon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Missing Ingrediant

After doing some searching on the internet I came across an article from The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) that detailed the missing ingrediant from my comparison post. The citation is here:

Recent Trends in Book of Mormon Apologetics: A Critical Assessment of Methodological Diversity and Academic Viability
Benjamin N. Judkins
FARMS Review: Volume - 16, Issue - 1, Pages: 75-97
Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2004

The most important quote places my research concerning comparisons in ancient warfare in a broader context. At the end of the quote I will explain how my research attempts to avoids the pitfalls that he mentions.

The ethnographic school, founded and championed by Hugh Nibley...seeks to situate the Book of Mormon as an ancient document through a slow and steady process of building up literally thousands of parallels with the ancient world. It is more in the traditional Latter-day Saint vein of seeking to open a space for rational belief rather than attempting to "prove" a has probably made the most substantial contributions of all. Especially helpful are recent efforts to use the work of Margaret Barker and others to situate the Book of Mormon in the emerging vision of what life in the ancient Near East must actually have been like. Efforts to show the Book of Mormon's compatibility with this world (knowledge of which was totally unavailable to Joseph Smith and his contemporaries) serve both to reinforce the historicity of the work and to provide a powerful new lens for examining its essential message. The recent work of Daniel C. Peterson, John Gee, John A. Tvedtnes, and others all offer striking new ways of reading the text—even some of its most Christian, nineteenth-century-sounding sections.

The ethnographic school itself is not free from methodological issues. One must specify what cultural parallels are expected in a given place and what sorts of parallels would be significant before conducting any investigation. At a minimum, an ongoing dialogue between theory and empirical investigation must occur. If it does not, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to defend a set of correlations against the charge of spuriousness. In fact, it is the lack of such theoretical considerations that has led to the not totally unjustified charge of parallelomania, particularly with regard to Nibley's work.

As I have done in such posts as "Military Cause for the Social Problems in the Book of Helaman" and "The Bad Emperor", I have tried to analyze a separate text or historical incident, such as the Agrarian Crisis or the Bad Emperor trope used by Chinese historians before I have shown its similarities in the Book of Mormon. As seen in my posts, I detail the salient features of the given point, and detail the same points within the Book of Mormon. I also take special pains to point out the differences in the given theories and tend to draw modest conclusions. These are all attempts to maintain a sober study of the Book of Mormon that does not seek a single 'silver bullet', or shoe horn comparisons, but seeks to find many loose parallels that help our study of the Book of Mormon and our knowledge of its historicity.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Pioneers lead us from Valhalla

I came across a really good post right here: (sorry for no link, I am still a historian not a techie)

I have commented over there extensively on it. The part that got me was the extolling of our pioneer's war like qualities. This may seem odd since they really didn't fight in any wars. The Mormon Battalion recorded the longest land march in United States Army history, and some of them found gold in California when they were done, but they really did not fight. The qualities extolled remind me of Victor David Hanson's description of the "rustic elan" of yeoman farmer that made the Roman soldier so lethal. It also reminded me of the Vikings (and many other ancient societies) who would praise the warlike qualities of their ancestors and try to draw upon their power in their current fight. Thus the title of my post. I also think its interesting that World War II era Mormons would praise their ancestors warlike qualities and cheer lead the war in such an obvious way. And finally, I do think that the qualities of courage and sacrifice showed by our pioneer ancestors would make us better soldiers.

As they say, go read for yourself. Update: I have a more current post beneath this. It posted there because I have had it saved in my queue for a little while now.

The Missing Ingrediant in the Problem with Comparisons

I have had this post saved in my queue for quit awhile. I haven't posted it yet because I feel there is something missing. Without that missing part I am afraid this post is little more than semi inspired musings (the cynic might say that is all any blog post is, but I am trying to make this better than just a random blog). Being incredibly busy with real life and realizing the need to continue posting, I will post this anyway while begging your indulgence and asking your help for that missing ingredient. Hope you enjoy and help:

This addresses a methodological problem in Book of Mormon studies that I think is largely absent from comparisons of in warfare. Over at mormon matters I found this article (again sorry for no hyperlink, I am still not a techie):

The problem is stated in more scholarly terms by William Hamblin ("Sharper Than a Two Edged Sword" from Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought) and a few other places. What caught my attention at mormon matters was the comparison between Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Both contain many similar items and yet because we have all seen both movies we know that George Lucas did not simply copy The Lord of the Rings. In the Hamblin and Mormon matters article they describe how both critics and defenders fall into this problem. Critics point many 19th century parallels while defenders point to Mesoamerican parallels. Hamblin goes one step further by providing the correct methodology in a logical proof. If the Book of Mormon is x than details of the Book of Mormon are being compared to y (19th Century American or Mesoamerica). But you should also include q. As in the Book of Mormon bears more resemblance to y than it does to q. In other words, the Book of Mormon is more similar to Mesoamerica than 19th century America. That prevents "parrallelmania" from taking hold where you can make a case that Star Wars is a direct rip off of The Lord of the Rings, or The Book of Mormon was plagiarized from The View of the Hebrews.

In warfare however, such concerns do not matter. The objective of most military theorists is provide principles that can be applied in a wide variety of situations. Thus principles of good generalship largely transcend cultural boundaries. The technology and limits of premodern warfare was also largely similar across cultural lines. (See Robert Hingham: A Military History of China chapter 1)Thus the writings of Sun Tzu are also generally good principles for Moroni, just as the writings of Vegetius, Frontinus, Maurice, B.H. Liddel Hart and Clausewitz. Some writers such as J.F.C. Fuller and Antione Henri Jomini go as far as to claim that warfare is a "science". Gravity applies to you no matter what time and place you live in the earth, thus the military "science" can be applied the same way.

So the military similarities in the Book of Mormon are a result of good generalship that transcends cultural boundaries. And the differences could result in either the poor leadership of the particular individual, or the exception to the rule that makes many theorists say that war is an art instead of science. In short: I feel this is one area where even the supposed mistakes augment the case for the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Broadening the Field

At the Juvenile Instructor Brant E. has discussed his current research project about Mormons that fought in the Civil War. You can read it for yourself here (sorry if the link is broken, I'm a historian not a techie):

This is a great study that shows how warfare can help us understand more about the Church. Here is a study of participants of a war that could have used the Book of Mormon as an ideological guide. It also represents the limits of my focus. I choose to focus on the internal textual studies and how the Book of Mormon compares to other military books and ideas. His paper focuses on how 19th century Mormons used the book in their lives. Both approaches are important and I look forward to expanding my studies in the future. (See the last point in my post "Ancient models for modern ideas")
I look forward to reading more from Brant and wish him luck.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Military Cause for the problems in the Book of Helaman

As part of being done with grad school I am now reading many books that I had to rush through in my studies. In "The Introduction to Ancient Warfare" Harry Sidebottom describes what historians call the "Agrarian Crisis" in the Late Roman Republic. I touched upon this subject in my post called "Full Time Soldiers", here I will try to better describe the salient features of the crisis and how it applies to the Book of Helaman and Third Nephi.

In the second and first centuries B.C. Roman armies (1) fought increasingly longer wars farther from their borders. (2) These wars allowed many rich landowners to increase the size of their holdings and caused many citizen soldiers to lose their farms while they were away. (3) These wars also imported large amounts of slaves and booty, that made the rich richer and supplied labor for these larger farms. (4) The now landless soldiers did two things: they congregated in the cities and supplied a market for the goods deriving from the big farms, or they found steady employment in the army. (5) Generals and soldiers had mutual self interest in fighting more wars that continued the cycle. They cycle was broken by (6) resettling the soldiers in distant colonies.

This is a very basic outline that leaves many things unsaid. But it does provide a basic model for explaining many of the events in the Book of Helaman. We start with longer wars far from home that required a greater number of full time soldiers. Many people were dispossessed in this war (1) as evidenced by the "regulation" that Nephite leaders conducted after the war. Many Nephites became "exceedingly rich" and Nephite society contained a growing number of specialists (lawyers, priests etc.) that connote a rising standard of living and complex society. (2) Many of these people could have grown rich by evicting small land holders. (4) The now landless and disgruntled population could have lead to the rise of a band of thieves described in the Book of Mormon. (5) While the large landowners increasingly defied the central authority. (continuation of the King men resulting in the overthrow of the Judgeship in 33 AD) The soldiers could have been more interested in the promises of booty that the thieves or rich landowners could provide more than the interests of the central government whose wars often lost them their lands. (6) Sorensons denotes in several places that the overpopulation of the Nephite heartland caused a resettlement to the lands in the North, like Hagoth and his colonies. I think it was an increasing number of landless former soldiers that sought to own land. Since at least one of these re settlements led to the rise of "king" Jacob, and General Moroni came south to lead the armies of the Nephites, it is internally consistent that at least some of these settlements were soldiers seeking a better life and more political freedom (perhaps a little too much?) than provided in the heartland.

Conclusion: The move of the Nephites from a part time force into an increasingly full time force led to several societal changes that included all the salient problems the Nephite nation faced in the Book of Helaman and Third Nephi: overcrowding, a rise of strong landholders, an increasingly complex society, the resettlement of Nephites or Nephite soldiers, the rise of Gadianton robbers, the lack of government contorl over their armed forces, and eventual fall of the government. Historiographically this shows how scholars can use warfare to achieve the same purposes as anthropologists like John Sorenson. And it shows how warfare is an underutilized tool in studying the Book of Mormon (see Apologetic Implications for more)

This is a rough model. I am still reading the Book of Mormon and looking for disqualifying and more specific verses. In the mean time, I invite comments or suggestions that will improve this thesis and help us better understand the Book of Mormon.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New Apologetic Implications

Hugh Nibley once said that one third of the Book of Mormon is devoted to warfare. (Since Cumorah, 291) But my question remains: is one third of Book of Mormon research devoted to the study of warfare? Now there is no requirement that equal coverage be provided to each subject of the Book of Mormon. In fact, the book sets its own requirement by stating on the title page and many pages thereafter, that the book is devoted to providing an additional witness of Jesus Christ and his mission.

John Welch has given a few reasons why warfare is often neglected. We live in a culture where the effects of war are removed from most members. As modern rationalists we also separated success in war from spiritual matters. But the Book of Mormon often combined the spiritual and secular in a double helix where faithfulness in one determined success in the other. Thus a study of proper warfare can increase our devotion to Jesus Christ.

Critics of the Church also use warfare to contradict the message of the Book of Mormon. As I discussed in the post "The Past and The Future", warfare is generally brought up in an effort to display the absurd and false nature of the book. Critics point out steel swords, implausible numbers and other such "nonsense" in pointing out the fraudulent nature of the word, and ultimately how it is "another gospel" or a satanic counterfeit.

But defenders of the Book of Mormon are neglecting critical areas in their work. As military theorists Sun-Tzu and Clausewitz said, the ability to choose the location of the battlefield is a key advantage that one has over an opponent. As I detailed in my post: "But Ricky" there are numerous avenues of approach in defending the Book of Mormon that are never mentioned.

Forcing critics of the Book of Mormon to answer our points has several advantages:
1. It forces critics to think- Some readers may think that is mean, but in my experience the various groups and individuals that attack the church often have their gun loaded with a few pre arranged talking points. These points are not based on their own analysis of the book, but simply repeat what their pastor/book/website has pointed out. Bringing up original and often un cited research (like the material on this blog) will reveal their lack of intimate knowledge of the source material, or their lack of thinking if you will. In short, when you quickly unload the bullets in their gun, they have nothing to fire at you.
2. Increase our knowledge- Knowledge is important, but having the skills to acquire knowledge is more important. Doing our own research into the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon helps us develop the analytical and reasoning skills that will help us in debating those with different ideas. Thus by studying one of the dominant features of the book -warfare- our minds will be better able to understand its key concepts and we can better engage our critics with an unlimited amount of ammunition. Because we have learned how to fish instead of just being handed a fish.
3. The Book of Mormon will be a part of the give and take that often accompanies ancient primary sources. By this I mean that the history written by Herodatus is used in conjunction with other primary sources, such as epigraphy, iconography, and archeology. In the Book of Mormon's case, it is one way. When the book deviates from the accepted orthodoxy of mesoamerican scholarship, it is assumed that the Book of Mormon is wrong. But perhaps the orthodoxy is wrong, and scholars should be using it as an extremely valuable primary source. This is the end result of where apologetics should lead -where the Book of Mormon can be used in a secular classroom (albeit with its spiritual elements probably stripped) because its historicity is beyond question, just as the bible is used today. Of course, I am fine with simply having a testimony of the Book, but my interests often lie in a scholarly study of it as well. And taking away the historicity case will undermine one of the larger critiques against the Book of Mormon. (See's bible vs. book of mormon articles for example)

These goals are far beyond the mere trench warfare that apologetics often contain. The study of warfare can broaden our mind, deflect pin prick criticisms by forcing attackers onto the territory of our choosing and ultimately gain the book acceptance as a historical document. In at least my speciality of warfare in the Book of Mormon we have the high ground inherent in a stronger position, its time we claim it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Bad Emperor

The great thing about being done with grad school is the fact that now I can actually slow down and enjoy all of my reading. Instead of doing 100 pages a day, I can now slow down and do about 20. My first re-reading is Medieval Chinese Warfare 300-900 by David Graff. In my readings I came across Graff's description of the "bad last Emperor". On page 62 Graff describes how Chinese historians, mainly civil bureaucrats, would depict the "bad last Emperor" that would forfeit the Mandate of Heaven. The biased historian described the ruler Shi Hu as:
a man of enormous sensual appetites, addicted to the pleasure of the harem...[and his] 'actions were harsh and cruel'...He put vast numbers of peasant labor conscripts to work on his palace complexes...imposing great hardships on the people...[he] dug up the tombs [of ancient rulers] to find treasures that had been buried with them...When he quarreled with the heir apparent, he had the young man, his consort, and his 26 children killed and buried together in a single coffin.
There are several general traits that are associated with a "bad Emperor:"

1. the person loves sensual appetites. 2. Builds multiple and implied unnecessary palaces. 3. By doing 1 and 2 he imposes a great burden on his people, through taxes and labor. 4. He kills any possible threat to his rule, often in cruel fashion. Graff argues that historians may have exaggerated his "sins" in order to justify the violent rise of a new dynasty. This leads to point 5. That a historian's account of a bad ruler will take special pains to highlight the sins of the ruler.

In the case of the Book of Mormon, a sinful ruler also forfeited his right to rule. Mormon acting as a historian would also take time to justify the Lords punishment of the individual and their loss of power. The case that jumped to my mind was that of King Noah. Mosiah Chapter 11 verse 2 starts the account:
2 For behold, he did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart. And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness.
3 And he laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed...
4 And all this did he take to support himself, and his wives and his concubines; and also his priests, and their wives and their concubines; thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom...
8 And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper;
9 And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof...
12 And it came to pass that he built a tower near the temple...
13 And it came to pass that he caused many buildings to be built in the land Shilom; and he caused a great tower to be built on the hill north of the land Shilom...
14 And it came to pass that he placed his heart upon his riches, and he spent his time in riotous living with his wives and his concubines; and so did also his priests spend their time with harlots.
15 And it came to pass that he planted vineyards round about in the land; and he built wine-presses, and made wine in abundance; and therefore he became a wine-bibber, and also his people....
As we can see in Chapter 11 of Mosiah, King Noah is depicted by Mormon as a "bad Emperor." He uses stark language to describe the sins of King Noah. These sins match many of those that fit the "bad Emperor" Shi Hu in Chinese history- love of concubines, love of riches, grandiose building projects, and an insecure ruler who had any threat killed- and just as Shi Hu lost the divine sanction for his realm, so did Noah. Noah lived in "riotous" fashion, he had the threat to his ruler, the prophet Abinadi, burned at the stake, he chased out one of his priests that listened to him, he built many "spacious building" and a tower in a place of "resort."

In summary:

The account of Mosiah matches the literary conventions of other ancient historians who sought to insert a particular moral lesson into their account. There are differences in the particulars of each account, and this doesn't mean that Chinese historians influenced the Book of Mormon, but it means the salient points are incredibly similar and can help us understand the event better. This does not cast into serious question the historicity of the event (since Noah could still have been all those things) but the bias of Mormon in his description of Noah adds authenticity to his status as an ancient historian and to the Book of Mormon.